Sunday, 20 February 2011

Zero Tolerance or Zero Protection?

This is an update on the proposed change to the current zero tolerance of unauthorised genetically modified organisms (gmos) in imported animal feed to Europe. I believe that this change would lead us down the path to virtually zero protection of human health and well-being for EU citizens because of an apparent trend of harmonizing laws between nations in the world towards an American model which has no such protection, which I explain below.

The issue at hand is whether the European Union (EU) should allow animal feed to be imported which has evidence of contamination of gmos that have not been approved in the EU. I wrote an article last month called Zeroing in on the Import of GMOs which sets out some of my concerns.

The vote on this issue in January was postponed. GM Freeze advises that Italy, Denmark, the UK and Ireland now support the measures. I find this hard to believe since Italy and Ireland have strong interests in the organic market and hope that they have reconsidered. GM Freeze also advises that the next earliest vote will be 22nd February.

Recently, the notion of harmonising laws between nations came to my attention. Specifically, I had never heard of the harmonization of laws, per se, between the US and Europe before a contact of mine in the US referred to it as if it was a common concept. I grew up in the US and studied law and political history in several colleges there, but it wasn’t until I studied law in the UK that I learned about harmonization of laws and that was in respect to the European Community Directives and Regulations and the EU Court of Justice rulings changing, testing and shaping the laws of and between Member State countries in order to facilitate a free and open market in Europe.

As described in the book EU Policy, the European Union has an institutional framework. Many claim this framework is undemocratic, but at least we can write to our MEPs who then have some input to decisions made at this level. We can also bring a case to the European Court of Human Rights. But on a global scale, there is no such framework. For example, the World Trade Organisation is closed and secret. Who do we complain to on this level? Who is representing our interests with harmonization of laws on a global scale?

It is a bit of a side-track, but please bear with me as I raise the next question. Where is the protection of the human right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food...” as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25 (December 10, 1948)? Even as it stands, where would we bring a complaint based on a breach of this basic human right? There’s no protection for our health and well-being in the European Convention on Human Rights, and this is even more obvious in the US Constitution and amendments. By harmonizing the laws of these two nations, this lack of fundamental human protection will only be reinforced. This is because, as can be seen in the EU, harmonization operates on the level of the lowest common denominator. In the case of gmos in animal feed, the US is at the bottom of the heap. The protection of our food is of vital importance, yet our law does not reflect this.

The dictionary meaning of food is rather basic: a source of material that provides living things with the nutrients they need for energy and growth. However, the legal definition of food in Europe doesn’t even cover that much. Food and foodstuffs in Article 2 Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 are defined as “any substance or product, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, intended to be, or reasonably expected to be ingested by humans” with a list of excluded items which includes medicinal products. What is reasonably expected to be ingested by humans is a very grey area nowadays and much so-called food and foodstuffs do not provide the nutrients needed for energy and growth, never mind promoting health and well-being.  Although animal feed is also excluded from the legal definition of food, when it contains gmos, it is a potential contaminate of our food which scientific evidence has shown could affect our health and well-being negatively.

The US, for one, is pushing to have gmos that are approved in the US accepted in the EU and this, in a sense, is in the pursuit of harmonizing the laws of these two nations. This issue is bigger than just zero tolerance of unauthorized gmos in animal feed. It’s about the rule of law, food sovereignty, democracy and protection of what ought to be an ingrained basic human right, i.e., the right to food for health and well-being.

Harmonization of laws is bad enough in Europe without extending it to a global level. According to Caomhín Macmaoláin in EU Food Law, “Articles 28 to 30 EC and the related case law make it almost impossible for Member States to introduce measures designed to protect human health unless the foodstuff in question poses a precipitate danger to health, as opposed to merely eroding it in the longer term” (p 15). By harmonizing laws with the US with its ‘substantially equivalent’ policy for gmos, this standard will be lowered even further, eventually eroding any protection of long-term health and one’s ability to maintain well-being to zero.

As a by the way, medicinal products and procedures are not a solution either, only a second-best option to a healthy, wholesome diet. Just the same as with disease and poor health, drugs either distract our consciousness or diminish it and our quality of life.  Consciousness or awareness is the ultimate goal of health and well-being for a fulfilled happy life.  And finally, drugs and a lack of health and well-being make a natural, dignified, and meaningful death difficult.

I hope that my MEPs take the dangers of the apparent attempt to harmonize laws with the US and other nations into consideration for this issue, but also generally, especially when dealing with any food and agricultural matters. And I hope that our politicians are not obliged to act in favour of the market unless and until there are adequate laws protecting us that require them to act otherwise.

As ever, I urge you to write to your MEPs, and if needed, please refer to the GM Freeze website for assistance.